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2020 US Election: Law Professor Underscores The Vital Role Of The Vice-President

As we continue to X-ray the forthcoming US Presidential Election, a Professor of Law and scholar of the American Vice-Presidency has underscored the evolutionary pattern and eventual establishment of the vital role of the US Vice-President in the American democratic system and governance.


In his remarks while briefing selected journalists virtually covering the US election from all over the world, a Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law Emeritus at St. Louis University School of Law, and scholar of the Vice-Presidency, Presidency, and constitutional law, said candidates now attach more importance to the choice of who becomes their running mates as against what used to be obtainable in the past.


Goldstein explained that the system hadn’t always operated like now, but the Vice-President’s role has evolved over time, thereby showing while it can be looked at as an office in itself, it also is an example of the way in which American political and governmental institutions can transform and assume roles that are more impactful and different from what was originally planned.


He elaborated that initially, the traditional arrangement by virtue of the constitution, assigns two roles to the Vice-President. First, as the President of the Senate, who has a tie-breaking vote when the Senate is tied, and then as the first in line, where presidential succession is concerned.


Goldstein told journalists that for the greater part of the 19th century, and for the first half of the 20th century, the role of the Vice-President was really more of a legislative officer. He gave examples of Vice presidents from John Adams, Alvin Barkley, who was Harry Truman's vice president from 1949 to 1953, who spent most of their time presiding over the Senate without taking on much or any functions in the executive branch of government.


Giving further historical insight, Goldstein said Vice-Presidents up until the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, were typically chosen by party leaders for the national ticket, with the main flagbearers; the presidential candidates having little or no influence in choosing their running mates.


He added the consequence of this factor was sadly, an unhealthy working relationship between the President and Vice-President, often having clearly defined differences in political or idealogical beliefs.


Such, according to the law Professor, was the situation which led to the VPs in the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century, being quite undistinguished figures who worked under the shadows of their principals.


Reeling out statistics to drive home his point, Goldstein said many of the VPs who were selected were in poor health when they were chosen, quoting 1812 when James Madison was fourth President, and up until 1912, when William Howard Taft was 27th President, seven of the Vice-Presidents chosen during that period died in office!


Citing a famous quote attributed to Daniel Webster, who was a renowned statesman in the early part of the 19th century; the former senator from Massachusetts and secretary of state; when he was offered the chance to be the vice presidential candidate on the ticket in 1848 with Zachary Taylor, he declined by saying "I don't propose to be buried until I'm dead", Goldstein highlighted the sheer unatractiveness of the Vice-Presidency, especially for a politically ambitious person.


A major shift, according to him, began in the 20th century, and particularly with the Vice-Presidency of Richard Nixon in 1953, when the Vice-Presidency moved from the legislative branch into the executive branch. Vice President Nixon was also the first Vice-President who spent minimal time presiding over the Senate, rather spending more time taking assignments from then President Eisenhower.


In a deeper analysis of the reason for the change that began with the Nixon Vice-Presidency, Goldstein explained that it actually related to larger changes in American life with the New Deal and of course, the World War II, wherein the national government became more important, and the presidency becoming even more important with the advent of the Cold War. At this point Goldstein said, it now became very important for the United States to compete with the Soviet Union for influence abroad in a dicey atomic age.


It also became important that the potential presidential successor be somebody who was erudite and who was well respected in the right circles. The age of Technological revolution also made its contribution, paving the way for other numerous possibilities, for media exposure, and so forth.

So, according to Goldstein, beginning with Vice President Nixon, the Vice-President of America became an occasional presidential advisor who attended national security meetings as well as other meetings in the White House.

Mr. Joel Goldstein, while briefing the journalists, also noted that the real significant change began with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, and the Vice-Presidency of Walter Mondale, during the transition of 1976 to 1977. In the Carter administration, the Vice-President was brought into the White House itself. And Vice President Mondale became part of President Carter's inner circle.

More recently, when he was Vice-President, Joe Biden was placed in charge of implementing the Recovery Act at the beginning of the Obama administration, he was in charge of disengagement from Iraq, and he was the person who negotiated a number of the important budget and tax agreements with the Republican legislative leaders, Senator McConnell, and Speaker Boehner.

In the final analysis, Goldstein says the trends of the previous years have impacted on the choices of both parties leading up to the 2020 election; Kamala Harris for Biden, and Mike Pence for incumbent; Donald Trump.

Story by Immanuel Odeyemi


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